Practicing yoga significantly improves the quality of life of women suffering from breast cancer and undergoing radiation therapy, Indian and American researchers have established and scientifically confirmed yet another benefit of the globally-popular, ancient Indian practice.Yoga helps breast cancer patients more than generic stretching exercises, improving their physical functioning, general health and reducing levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - the scientists have said.
The findings are particularly significant because high cortisol levels have been associated with worse outcomes for cancer patients, they have said.
The research was performed by a team of scientists from the Bangalore-based Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana - India's largest yoga research institution - and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The findings will be presented next month to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Yoga has for some time been viewed as beneficial in fighting fatigue, particularly for patients recovering from strenuous treatments. But the new research suggests that it offers several other critical benefits.
The researchers studied 163 women with breast cancer averaging 52 years, who were divided into three groups - those who attended yoga sessions, those who practiced simple stretching exercises and those who did neither.
Patients were asked to report on their quality of life - including depression and spirituality. The researchers also collected saliva samples and administered electrocardiogram tests on all patients at the start, and after one, three and six months.
The women who practiced yoga or general stretching exercises reported lower fatigue than the third group after the completion of radiation therapy. But the women who practiced yoga reported significantly greater benefits to physical functioning and general health.
Many also appeared to have turned more spiritual and willing to draw positive life changes from their cancer experience. Critically, the women who practiced yoga also showed the sharpest decline in levels of cortisol across the day.